12 Myths of Christmas: Rudolph

So, I present a new series are daily blog posts that will take us up to the day after boxing day… because I am two days late getting the first one out after an overindulgent Life on Mars marathon. Trust the Gene Genie. Anyway, I plan to look at 12 stories relating to Christmas and the holiday season with a critical eye as well as some stories that are just a bit odd or quirky. We start off with the story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

We all know Rudolph, and we all know that he is an integral part of not only the tale of Santa but of Christmas as a whole. After Jesus and Santa, Rudolph is probably the most famous aspect of Christmas. His story is documented in a Christmas Carol that is sung around the world, and I heard it again this evening whilst waiting for a taxi as a group of carollers sung at Tesco. Every Choir Helps.

This is Rudolphs story: In the cold, dark wastelands of the North Pole lives a man and his army of child slaves, might possibly be elves. Though I assume the naughty boys and girls are sent there to make toys for the good boys and girls. Anyway, the Crimson Overlord known as Santa Claus takes these toys and traverses the globe in one night, similar to how Superman turned back time. These toys are carried in a sack which contains the billions of treats for kids. This sack, may or may not be Time Lord technology, but is in a sleigh driven by 8 reindeer. Despite legal requirements that vehicles travelling at night must be equipped with sufficient lighting, Santas sleigh has none. This creates a problem one year when the 8 reindeer are unable to clearly see and so drastic measures must be taken. Aside form the 8 that pull the sleigh there is one more reindeer who is never involved in the flight, and has no reason really to be there except of course to provide cruel amusement to the thuggish brutes that pull the sleigh. You see, these school yard bullies use this one reindeer, Rudolph, as their little victim- bullying him, mocking him, and refusing to let him join in any games. Bunch of bastards. But one thing that sets Rudolph apart is his physical deformity, a target for their vile taunts. Rudolph has a glowing red nose. How he got this, we do not know, but considering he has no real involvement in anything at Santas Forced Labour camp, we can only assume he is the result of cruel experimentation by Santa Mengele. Though Rudolph’s story has something of a happy ending when it is realised his deformity can be exploited for Santas own ends and he lets Rudolph lead the sleigh. Finally, he is accepted- at least until the skies clear and he is dropped into the engine of an oncoming jet. Probably.

Or for a less dystopian view of the story: It is a tale of a lone reindeer with a special gift, brought to the forefront of Santas team to guide them with his nose so bright. Okay, that probably sums it up better than the above paragraph. Rudolph is a staple of Christmas, he adorns decorated walls, children sing about him in school and he is probably better known than the other 8 reindeer who without Googling I believe are called Donna, Blitzen, Comet, uhm.. Gary… er… Chlamydia… you know what, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is everyone knows Rudolph, everyone loves Rudolph and everyone knows Rudolph is an integral and ancient part of the Santa story probably dating back to the earliest tales centuries ago, right? Well, wrong, actually.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was basically a marketing ploy by a large retail company. Rudolph was created for Montgomery Ward, a retail outlet in Chicago in 1939. Robert L May is the man who came up with the character and promoted him as Santas Ninth Reindeer. Montgomery Ward had been giving away colouring books to kids every year- a clever little marketing gimmick that clearly was working for them by bringing more people into the store. It was decided that making their own book would save them money and so May was brought in to create Rudolph the Red Nosed Moose. Yes, Moose. Rather quickly it was decided a reindeer would be better as reindeer are friendlier. And so Rudolph was born, though his name originally was a choice between Rollo and Reginald. Though Reginald sounds less like a happy little scamp and more like someone working in a white collar industry.

Come on, sing it with me “Reginald the Red Nosed Reindeer, had a very shiny and productive job as an accountant”.

So Rudolphs origin was a result of a company creating him to give away books to children, these books contained the original story of Rudolph, and the story itself is currently in copyright. The song was not penned until 1949 by Mays brother in law, who only passed away in 1985 meaning the song is one of the few “traditional” Christmas songs that isn’t public domain. The question of Rudolphs copyright status is murky, the story and the song are of course copyrighted, and you would imagine that as the character was only created within the last century, that he too would be copyrighted. However, finding a definitive answer is not clear as according to a legal expert on this site the name itself is not, which seems odd as you would expect the character to automatically become copyrighted when the story was. Though if he is copyrighted, it does not seem to be upheld considering the sheer volume of Rudolph knock offs out there, and it could be argued that as the character has so powerfully integrated into tradition there is an argument that he should exist in public domain as has happened with Sherlock Holmes in America.

But regardless of the copyright status of the character, it is an interest occurrence that Rudolph has become so important a part of Christmas when he was invented so recently and for reasons of encouraging shoppers in with the promise of free books for the kiddies.

 

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